Mark Teixeira spent eight of his 14 big-league seasons playing for the Yankees. Playing before a packed house – home and away – more often than not was the norm for the first baseman.
No major-leaguer wants to play without a crowd but, Teixeira said by phone this past week, players would adjust if necessary -- which it apparently will be. The sport was shut down indefinitely March 13 because of the coronavirus pandemic, and it seems inevitable that if Major League Baseball is able to resume this season, there will be games being played in empty ballparks.
Among the many scenarios being discussed in talks between MLB and the Players Association, one gaining steady traction is games played with no fans in the stands, at least initially.
“It’d be weird for the first, probably, week or two,” said Teixeira, who retired after the 2016 season. “Then I think guys will get used to it. And hopefully it would be something that you'd only need to do for four to six weeks anyway. Because I've heard [Mavericks owner] Mark Cuban talking about it in the NBA. If the choice is you don't play or you play in an empty stadium, we need to be playing in empty stadiums.''
But Teixeira, now an ESPN analyst, said there could be a catch to that, a financial one. Because of the amount of money teams make off ticket sales, concessions, etc., having zero fans at the ballparks would significantly cut into that figure.
MLB and the Players Association reached an agreement on a variety of issues March 26 — including those relating to service time and prorated salaries — but not specifically the issue Teixeira mentioned.
“[If] I’m paying a dollar to a player to play in a game in an empty stadium and I'm only making 70 cents on the dollar of what I usually make … that's another kind of ‘off the table deal’ for the players if they have to play in empty stadiums and the owners say, ‘Well, I'm going to pay you less,’ ” said Teixeira, who in his playing days was always closely attuned to union affairs. “That actually came straight from a player that I talked to. He said, ‘We are not cool with owners saying they want to pay us less because we’re playing in empty stadiums.’ Players [overall] have no problem playing in empty stadiums.”
Ultimately, of course, all of it is irrelevant until the virus is contained, which by any objective measure won’t be in the near future.
Teixeira said though he’s “very optimistic by nature,” he nonetheless has some doubt — and who doesn’t at this point? — that there will be an MLB season.
It is, he said, all about the calendar. Even with multiple doubleheaders being actively discussed, if the season doesn’t start until, say, August, getting enough games in is problematic.
“If that's the case, can you really get enough games in to have a real season?” Teixeira said. “So there has to be a drop-dead date of, if we don't start the season by Aug. 1, pick a date, then there's just no way [that we can have a season] because you can't play until February. You can't play the season and then give the guys a week off and then go right back to spring training [for 2021]. That would be insane. So yeah, there's a small doubt in my mind. In a worst-case scenario, the 2020 season could be canceled, which would be sad for a lot of people.”